In light of the defamatory article the Daily Mail Online published on 12th April about me being an anti-semite, my dear friend and colleague the historian John Newsinger, has suggested you might like to read the full text of his article Fascism & The Daily Mail a shortened version of which was published in this month’s edition of Socialist Review.
Fascism, Hitler and the Daily Mail
By John Newsinger
Socialist Review. April 2019.
The Daily Mail has always been a viciously reactionary newspaper, prepared to slander, abuse and malign anyone perceived to be a threat to the interests of its proprietor and his class. It most famously published the forged Zinoviev Letter in order to damage the Labour Party in 1924, but also went after Stanley Baldwin, the Tory leader, for being a crypto-socialist in 1931, libelling him in the process. Baldwin made clear that he would not touch any damages from the Mail, even ‘with a barge pole’ and publicly condemned it’s proprietor, Lord Rothermere, as ‘a harlot’. The paper was to plumb new depths in the course of the 1930s.
Rothermere had been a great admirer of Mussolini throughout the 1920s with the Mail routinely praising the achievements of Italian fascism. Mussolini, according to Rothermere, was ‘the greatest figure of our age’, indeed he had saved Europe from the menace of Communism. He wrote in the Mail that it was because Bolshevism was stopped in Italy that ‘it collapsed in Hungary and ceased to gain adherents in Bavaria and Prussia’. As far as he was concerned, what Britain needed was heroic leadership on the Italian model, but all they had was Stanley Baldwin.
With the rise of Nazism, he found a new hero. The election of September 1930 saw the Nazis dramatically increase their support in the Reichstag, from 12 seats to 107. The Mail published an article, ‘A Nation Reborn’, under Rothermere’s byline, enthusiastically celebrating the Nazi success. Indeed, such was the enthusiasm that it was reprinted in the Nazi press! A delighted Hitler granted an interview to the Mail’s German correspondent, Rothay Reynolds on 26 September, telling him how pleased he was that Rothermere could ‘understand what we have in our hearts’.
The two men went on to become good friends, meeting on a number of occasions, and corresponding regularly. So impressed was Rothermere with his new friend that he gave Hitler a photographic portrait of himself in a solid gold frame.
As far as Rothermere was concerned the Nazis were not only going to save Germany from Communism, but also showed the way forward for Britain. He remained critical of British Tories for being too liberal, still crypto-socialists, when what the country needed was a good taste of authoritarian reaction to smash the Left once and for all and to restore Britain’s Imperial might. He thought he had found just the man to achieve this objective in Oswald Mosley.
When Mosley first broke with the Labour Party, Rothermere urged him to embrace Fascism as the way forward, promising him the full support of his newspaper empire. One of Mosley’s friends, Robert Boothby, a Tory MP, warned him against Rothermere, actually telling him that in any decent society ‘his papers would be suppressed and he would be executed’.
Inspired mainly by Mussolini at this stage, Mosley founded the British Union of Fascists in October 1932. Initially, Rothermere withheld his support, but after the Nazis finally took power in Germany in 1933, with the support of German conservatives, it is important to remember, he threw his papers behind the Blackshirts.
On 10 July 1933, Rothermere had celebrated Hitler’s coming to power with an article ‘Youth Triumphant’, written readers were told from ‘somewhere in Naziland’. He urged all young people ‘to study closely the progress of the Nazi regime’ and ‘not to be misled by the misrepresentations of its opponents’ who were trying ‘to give the impression that Nazi rule is a bloodthirsty tyranny’. As for the new regime’s murderous anti-Semitism, it was merely curbing the influence of ‘alien elements’, of the ‘Israelites’! Once again, Hitler was delighted.
And now Rothermere threw his support behind Mosley. This campaign produced the infamous headline article, ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’ in the Mail in January 1934, the Sunday Dispatch offer of a £5 prize for a photograph of the most beautiful female Blackshirt, the Evening News competition, ‘Why I Like the Blackshirts’ with a £1 prize for the week’s winner and much more. Rothermere even invested £70,000 (nearly £3 million in today’s money) in a joint cigarette business venture with the BUF. And at the Mail, staff began turning up for work, wearing black shirts in a grovelling display of sympathy for their proprietor’s politics. Rothermere was so impressed by Mosley that he wrote to Hitler that he expected him to be in power ‘within three years’. BUF membership shot up.
In fact, Rothermere soon broke with Mosley, not over any objection to Blackshirt violence or the BUF’s vicious anti-Semitism as is sometimes suggested. Indeed, the Mail actually praised the violence Blackshirt stewards had used against leftwing protesters at the Olympia Rally in June 1934. And as for anti-Semitism, when Rothermere met Goebbels in January 1937, the Nazi commented in his diary on how complimentary and how ‘anti-Jewish’ he was. Rothermere fell out with Mosley because he came to see the role of the BUF as being to pull Conservative opinion over to the hard right, whereas Mosley saw his party replacing the Conservative Party altogether.
Even after he ended his support for Mosley, Rothermere remained strongly attached to the Nazis. He actually promised Hitler that his views would be treated ‘only in the way you may desire’. Throughout the 1930s, the Mail was effectively Hitler’s mouthpiece in Britain. As far as Rothermere was concerned, Hitler was always a ‘great gentleman’, indeed he praised him in the Mail as ‘a man of rare culture’ whose ‘knowledge of music, painting and architecture is profound’. This eulogy appeared soon after the Kristallnacht pogrom of March 1938 that left over 90 Jews dead, every synagogue in Germany wrecked and over 30,000 Jews thrown into concentration camps where hundreds more died from the brutal treatment they experienced.
For Rothermere, Hitler was one ‘of those great leaders of mankind who appear rarely more often than once in two or three centuries’. He supported Nazi intervention in the Spanish Civil War and the Nazi takeover of Austria, sending ‘my dear Fuhrer my heartiest congratulations’ and telling him that ‘Your star is rising higher and higher’. Later he told Hitler how popular he expected ‘Adolf the Great’ would become in Britain after the Munich Agreement and after Hitler broke the Agreement and took over Czechoslovakia, he privately urged him to go on and take over Romania.
All this changed overnight once war broke out with the Mail going from Nazi apologist to ultra-patriotism, a display of hypocrisy that remains very much the paper’s hallmark. As for Rothermere, he was afraid that his correspondence with Hitler was going to become public and that when it did the public demand for his internment and possible trial for treason would prove irresistible. Not even his good friend Churchill would be able to protect him. To avoid the scandal, he went into voluntary exile in the United States, ending up in Bermuda, where he died in November 1940.
The Daily Mail lives on.
Some of research for John’s article comes from 2 fascinating books you also might find interesting:
Reporting on Hitler: Rothay Reynolds and the British Press in Nazi Germany Will Wainewright. London. Biteback Publishing, 2017
Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe
Jim Wilson. London. The History Press, 2011)